Birthing Rock vandalism highlights tensions between public lands and Indigenous sacred places | New


“It’s disturbing … I thought that by this day and at our age, we would all respect each other’s identity,” said Woody Lee, executive director of Utah Diné Bikéyah, when he did. been informed. the recent vandalism of the Birthing Rock petroglyphs. [Read “1,000-year-old petroglyphs marred by graffiti” -ed.]

“Civilization here is supposed to be on a higher level, and yet we degrade ourselves by doing things like this,” Lee said. The UDB is a non-profit organization of representatives of five tribes in the Southwest – the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute and Uintah Ouray Ute – that strives to preserve and protect cultural and natural resources Native American ancestral lands for the benefit and healing of people and the land.

Lee said he hoped the public debate and continuing education efforts could help generate understanding and respect among people, including the vandal who damaged the Birthing Rock sign.

“The individual needs to be healed,” Lee said of the vandal.

The vandalism comes just weeks after media coverage of another incident in which a petroglyph panel in the Moab area was damaged. Earlier this month, Richard Gilbert, a medically retired sailor who lives in Colorado Springs, locked a road at the Sunshine Wall just north of Arches National Park, not realizing it was growing just above of a panel of petroglyphs..

Gilbert said he believed the images were recently engraved graffiti, mistaking a figure for what appears to be a shield and spear for a helicopter landing strip symbol. After learning his mistake, he apologized online, warned others not to climb the road on climbing information websites, and traveled to Moab to speak with the local BLM about this. that he could do to help repair the damage.

“He walked up and said, ‘I did that, and I’m sorry.’ He was honest in going out and saying that, ”Lee said. From there, Lee said, land stewards can advance education efforts. UDB reached out to climbing groups and influencers to ask for their help in educating their communities about the petroglyph panels and their importance to the tribes.

UDB Cultural Resources Coordinator Angelo Baca participated in an April 26 webinar hosted by the Access Fund titled “Climbing Sacred Land: Understanding and Respecting Indigenous Culture”.

The Access Fund is a national non-profit organization that advocates access to climbing and the conservation of outdoor spaces; During the April 26 webinar, Director Chris Winter said of the group: “One of our core values ​​is a deep respect for Indigenous peoples.

Other panelists in the discussion included Gilbert, the climber who fled over petroglyphs at Sunshine Wall; Ashleigh Thompson, member of the Red Lake Ojibwe and Eagle clan and doctoral student in Native Archeology / Native American Studies at the University of Arizona; Skye Kolealani Razon-Old, originally from Hawaii and founder and director of the nonprofit Kanaka Climbers; and Chris Shulte, author, board member of the local nonprofit Friends of Indian Creek, and professional climber who has spent much of his life and career climbing in the Southwest, including the Moab region. All the panelists identified themselves as climbers or former climbers.

Panelists spoke of a culture of law among outdoor enthusiasts, especially among rock climbers.

“There are a lot of privileges and a lot of taxation from these people who take advantage of public lands, monuments and national parks – and hardly ever think about the fact that the only reason they are public is that they were stolen, ”Baca said.

Thompson pointed to the irony of the Access Fund hosting the webinar, in light of some of their past campaigns in which they have taken legal action against tribes in an attempt to keep access for climbers.

Panelists also denounced the concept of “wilderness” promoted by many conservation advocates, noting that archeology shows people inhabiting many areas considered “wild” long before the arrival of European settlers. Many iconic national parks, such as Yosemite and Glacier, were home to indigenous peoples before tribes were killed or displaced and their lands declared parks.

“Indigenous peoples were murdered, fought and evicted so that settlers could gain access to these lands,” said Thompson.

Another point discussed was the impression that many Americans have that Native American cultures are a thing of the past. Public education systems, the panelists noted, often teach Native American tribes as if they are gone, if they cover them at all.

“People can view this crime, and other crimes, as victimless because they can’t relate these sites to people,” Thompson said. She explained that indigenous religions are based on place rather than rituals: specific sites are, and have been, sacred to tribes for generations. The existing rock art panels are not vestiges of a lost culture; they are sacred sites within living cultures linked to the place.

While the pain and frustration was evident in the discussion, panelists all expressed hope that continuing the conversations will be productive. They encouraged listeners to support indigenous advocacy efforts, research the protocols of the tribes on whose lands they are recreating, and respectfully visit following those protocols and “leaving no trace.”

“Healing is hard work. It can be very difficult and painful, it is not easy, it takes a lot of soul searching, ”Baca said.

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